UK Foreign Office Cautions as Tourists Return with Deadly Disease with 1 of 10 Ratio

Deadly Disease

A new warning has been issued as more cases of a potentially deadly disease have been found in individuals returning to the UK. The Travel Health Pro website, part of the Foreign Office, revealed that 14 instances of the lethal meningococcal disease have been identified in people coming back from Saudi Arabia, including some in the UK.

As of June 21, 2024, Travel Health Pro disclosed that a total of 14 cases of invasive meningococcal disease have been reported in the United States (five cases), France (four cases), the United Kingdom (three cases), Norway (one case), and the Netherlands (one case). These cases involved travellers or contacts of travellers returning from the Umrah pilgrimage.

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a significant cause of meningitis and septicaemia. The disease often progresses rapidly, with around one in ten individuals succumbing to it. The bacteria invade the body, leading to a severe bacterial infection known as meningococcal infection.

Meningitis typically presents with a trio of symptoms: fever, headache, and neck stiffness, often accompanied by other symptoms such as altered mental state, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Meningococcal sepsis, also known as meningococcemia, is characterised by fever and a petechial or purpuric rash, often accompanied by septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation, and multiple organ failure, according to Gloucestershire Live.

Meningococcemia carries a case-fatality ratio of up to 40%. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control notes that neurological and hearing impairment or amputation can occur in up to 20% of survivors.

Over 900 deaths were reported at the Hajj due to severe heatwaves. The Ministry of Health has issued recommendations for pilgrims attending the Hajj:

  • Wear facemasks in crowded areas
  • Regularly wash hands with soap and water or disinfectant, particularly after coughing, sneezing, using the toilet, before handling food, and after touching animals
  • Use disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of them properly
  • Avoid contact with sick individuals and sharing personal items
  • Avoid contact with camels in farms, markets, or barns
  • Refrain from drinking unpasteurised milk or eating raw meat or animal products that are not thoroughly cooked, and take measures to avoid insect bites day and night.

Saudi Arabian authorities do not allow travellers arriving for Hajj to bring food unless it is properly canned or sealed. Travellers arriving in areas near Hajj locations for pilgrimage, seasonal work, or other purposes are advised to:

  • Wash hands before and after eating and after using the toilet
  • Clean and wash fresh vegetables and fruit
  • Ensure food is thoroughly cooked and stored at a safe temperature.

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